Miramar Beach: Your Domestic Cure for the Common Caribbean Blues

Story and Photos by Valerie Abarda

Kick your shoes off, step onto the beach and allow your feet to settle into the warmth of fine, white sand. You wriggle your toes as they seep deeper into the tiny, smooth granules. The emerald water of the Gulf of Mexico Tug at the shoreline as it rolls to and fro. The sun’s dazzling rays accompany the comforting breeze that gently tousles you tresses and, for a brief moment, you forget where you are. Your mind whispers “Caribbean” nit the signposts tell a different story.

Miramar Beach Your Domestic Cure1You are in northwest Florida. Okay, maybe you weren’t there, but I was, and for me, it was family time! When my stepson came to stay the summer with us, my husband and I yearned to pack our bags and hit Barbados, Jamaica, Cayman Islands – anywhere that emoted a Caribbean flavor, minus the Caribbean price tag. We found that place in the form of Miramar Beach. Located just east of Destin, Miramar Beach, a subtropical oasis along Florida’s Emerald Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, has an abundance of things to see and do, but if you’re there for more than a day, a place to lay your head in comfort is priority number one.

Where to Stay
Thanks to a generous friend with a vacancy, my husband, stepson and I spent six days at TOPS’L Beach & Racquet Resort. TOPS’L, managed by ResortQuest Real Estate, is part of the Wyndham Vacation Rentals family and is true resort living. TOPS’L is a large property filled with private residences as well as rental units. With an astonishing 546 units on the property, ResortQuest represents just over 41% (227 units). For vacationers, that’s a large pool from which to choose. Speaking of pools, there are more than a few swimming pools (seven, to be exact) dotting the TOPS’L landscape. TOPS’L is a community within a community with two restaurants, a basketball court, shuffleboard, a fitness center and 12 rubico tennis courts (10 lighted). Navigating around the resort is a breeze with a free community shuttle on the premises.

We stayed in The Summit building, aptly named for its location at the highest elevation in the resort. Our condo was a 1,601 foot spacious feast for the eyes. If the three bedrooms and three baths weren’t enough to induce me to unpack my bags and stay for a while, the two balconies and panoramic views of the Gulf of Mexico sealed the deal. Rental units in The Summit have two or three bedrooms, each with a full kitchen, living room, dining room, two or three bathrooms and balconies.

Miramar Beach Your Domestic Cure2 Units in TOPS’L Beach Manor and TOPS’L Tides have similar appointments, and they all have easy access to the beach. For a taste of home, the unique Sierra Dunes are three bedroom homes with two or three baths. Some of the units also have porches and pools. The Captiva townhomes offer two floors of comfort with two or three bedrooms and three baths. Two and three bedroom villas in the Tennis Village are courtside and feature a fireplace, covered parking and a deck or terrace. Generally, our days were spent on the beach and at night we were steps away from the commercial district where there’s everything from restaurants to grocery stores to a whole host of leisure activities.

A Smorgasbord of Things to Do

Baytowne Wharf
Just down the street from TOPS’L is the Villages at Baytowne Wharf, located within the gates of the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort. At Baytowne Wharf, you’ll find oodles of things to do from grabbing a bite to eat or quenching your thirst with a cocktail at any one of the almost two dozen restaurants and cafes, going for a spin on the Baytowne Carousel to a ziplining aerial adventure. If you want to give your credit card a workout, take your pick from children’s apparel at Coconut Kidz, artisan jewelry at bluCALYPSO, beach and swimwear at Aloha Surf Company and more. Oh and don’t forget the merry-go-round. The Village of Baytowne Wharf is pet friendly, so grab a leash and your four-legged buddy and explore the village. We strolled around a bit before grabbing a bite at Rum Runner’s.

Miramar Beach Your Domestic Cure3Outdoor Adventures at the Park
Just shy of three miles east of the TOPS’L resort is Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, the antidote for your outdoor cravings. At Topsail  Hill, families can bird watch, hike along a nature trail, go fresh water fishing, go for a dip in the Gulf of Mexico, lounge along 3.2 miles of white quartz sand beach, camp out overnight, rent a cabin, go kayaking or canoeing and more.

A Nearby Excursion – Seaside
A scant 30 minutes from Miramar is Seaside, Florida, an 80-acre planned community that began decades ago with the dream of J.S. Smolian. Years later, that dream was realized by Smolian’s grandson, Robert Davis and, in 1981, the charming resort town of Seaside was born. White picket fences and pastel hued cottages dot the landscape of Seascape, and as we wandered around the beach community, we encountered many families out for the day. This seemed apropos since the Travel Channel named Seaside’s white sand beaches its “2015 Best Family Beach.” There are more than a dozen restaurants and eateries in the village, including several that kick the food truck concept up a notch in vintage Airstream trailers along County Road 30-A. Dozens of shops and services, a repertory theater, a charter school, an interfaith chapel, a thriving town center with an amphitheater and, of course, the beach round out Seaside.

Whooping it Up for Family Fun 

Miramar Beach Your Domestic Cure8Let down your hair and gear up for fun. The Track Family Recreation Center takes family entertainment to a whole new level. There’s plenty to do at The Track. Here’s the rundown: bumper cars and bumper boats; miniature golf; five go-kart tracks, including a 3-story wooden track perfect for adults; and an arcade. For the adrenaline junkie in you, there’s a 75-foot bungee jumping tower as well as the SkyFlyer, an attraction that simulates sky diving. At The Track, even the little ones can get in on the action in Kids Country, a park inside a park. Rides there include The Rio Grande Train Ride, a carousel, a mini-ferris wheel and more.

Get the Kinks Worked Out 

Life got you tied up in knots? Have a few hours to spare? Craving a bit of relaxation time? For me, it was yes, yes and yes. My antidote to life was a 3 1/2 hour spa treatment at Emerald Sanctuary Spa. If the words “ooooh” and “aaah” aren’t in your vocabulary, they will be after a visit to Emerald. Krystal Orlando, the owner of Emerald Sanctuary Spa, believes in providing a satisfying massage experience. “Massage therapy is one of those things that if you don’t like it, it shows.”

Emerald Sanctuary Spa is a welcoming and intimate space with a concentration on massages, facials, body wraps and nail services. If you’re into bundling, try one of their five luxury packages. The Extend Your Stay package, which was my indulgence of choice, includes a massage, body wrap, mini-facial, manicure and pedicure. While the price tag is a bit high, the rejuvenating down time hit the mark for me and made the experience worthwhile.

Miramar Beach Your Domestic Cure13Feeding the Need
When it’s time to dine, the Miramar Beach/Destin area has many options from which to choose—some good, some not so good.

Pompano Joe’s If you ask anyone in the know in the Miramar Beach/ Destin area where you can get good eats, they’ll likely respond with “Pompano Joe’s.” Located on the beach, it’s a lively place and a seafood destination that won’t break the bank. The Seafood Gumbo at Pompano Joe’s is a favorite among the locals as are the Reggae Rolls, Jamaican-influenced eggrolls featuring jerk
seasoned chicken. Pompano Joe’s is extremely popular which, ironically, might not work to their advantage since they don’t take reservations. Keep this in mind for dinner, where the wait can be 30 minutes or more. You might have better luck going for lunch.

Stewby’s Seafood Shanty – Stewby’s is the sort of casual place you go to when you want no frills dining at affordable prices. It’s a tiny place with questionable aesthetics and picnic table seating, but none of that matters when it comes to the food. It’s fresh and it’s good. What it isn’t, though, is fast food. The sides are made from scratch and the seafood is locally sourced. Shrimp, soft shell crabs, oysters, calamari and more grace the menu. Stewby’s even serves tacos. If you’re in the mood, try the Grilled Fish tacos. For the landlubbers, they also have several chicken dishes on the menu.

Mimmo’s Ristorante Italiano – Seafood is fine, but on the other side of the dining spectrum is robust authentic Italian fare. One of the special touches that makes Mimmo’s so great is the wood fired brick oven that dominates one corner of the dining room. You know that anything coming out of the oven is going to be rustic and delicious, especially the pizzas. Try the “Mimmo’s Pizza” with prosciutto de Parma, tomatoes, mushrooms and mozzarella cheese.

Your Ideal Vacation Spot?
My first time in Miramar Beach turned out to be the ideal vacation destination. You can do as much or as little as you want. In the end, I didn’t miss not going to the Caribbean…not even a little bit.


V.AlbardaValerie Albarda is an author and freelance lifestyle writer specializing in food, travel and the joys of midlife. Originally from Maryland, she now calls North Carolina home where she spends time with her husband Maarten and their dog, Chaka. Inspired by her mom, who was a voracious reader, and her dad, a storytelling Air Force veteran who loved to travel, she is a mélange of the wonderful traits they endowed. Her travels have taken her to places in Cairo. The Seychelles,Switzerland, The Netherlands, Budapest, Rome and more. Follow Valerie’s adventures on her blog, Bon Vivant and her website, Midlife-A-Go-Go

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